Gov. Blunt calls for passage of early voting legislation

Thursday, January 20, 2005

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Gov. Matt Blunt on Wednesday endorsed a form of early voting he said will boost voter participation while avoiding the increased costs that helped derail past proposals.

Blunt's proposal would allow no-excuse absentee voting. At present, those seeking an absentee ballot must sign an affidavit stating a reason for why they are unable to make it to the polls on Election Day, such as they expect to be out of town.

"This is a pragmatic way to achieve all the objectives of early voting," Blunt said. "In some ways this is superior."

Past early voting plans considered by the Missouri Legislature would have required local election officials to establish and staff polling places weeks in advance of an election at a statewide cost of millions of dollars. Blunt said his plan would impose minimal additional expenses.

Under Blunt's proposal, those wishing to vote early would go to their county clerk's office and request an absentee ballot up to six weeks before an election, just as they do now. The only difference is they wouldn't have to provide a reason.

Stoddard County Clerk Don White said Blunt's idea strikes a good balance between controlling costs and increasing participation.

"It will keep us busy in the office, but it's a convenience for voters," White said.

An open secret among county clerks is that they don't press voters too hard about their reasons for needing an absentee ballot.

"Some people who know the system are making up excuses anyway," said Cape Girardeau County Clerk Rodney Miller.

However, Blunt expects more people will request absentee ballots if they don't have to resort to deception.

"A lot of Missourians don't want to lie," Blunt said.

Butler County Clerk John Dunivan, a staunch advocate for more aggressive early voting efforts, said he isn't certain how big an impact Blunt's plan would have but still favors it.

"I support anything that would increase the number of people we have voting," Dunivan said.

Sponsors have already been lined up to handle the bill in both legislative chambers. The measure will also eliminate the requirement that absentee ballot requests be notarized. Blunt said that step is an unnecessary inconvenience to voters.

Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, who replaced Blunt last week as Missouri's top elections official, said she is pleased the governor is making early voting a part of his agenda but wants some safeguards included in the legislation to prevent fraud.

"We need to do this in a way that makes sense, protects the rights of voters and protects the integrity of the process," Carnahan said.

Carnahan also wants uniform statewide rules that keep records of those who cast absentee ballots private. Current law allows candidates for office access to lists of those who requested absentee ballots prior to Election Day in most counties. The law doesn't apply to St. Louis and Kansas City.

"If you live in Cape Girardeau, any political party or candidate can get access to that information and do anything they want with it," Carnahan said.

Blunt drew criticism last fall for asking county clerks for such absentee voter lists on behalf of the Republican Party.

mpowers@semissourian.com

(573) 635-4608

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